From a Female Circumciser to an Child Advocate
Paka, in her seventies, was a female circumciser in Kenya. Female circumcision is also called female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), and defined as the removal of part or all of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. She has reformed recently and vowed to do everything possible - within her ability - to fight female circumcision that has been practised in her community for years.
“I used to cut girls because that was a cultural practice that the community valued. All along, I thought I was doing something good. These women used to respect us because based on traditional beliefs, FGM enables girls to transition into adulthood or womanhood. It also increases their value and makes them ready for marriage, which brings wealth to families through dowry,” Paka explains.
While practising FGM, Paka notes that she would receive cash - as a token of appreciation - from parents whose daughters she had cut. After cutting the girls, Paka and fellow circumcisers would be invited to celebratory parties where plenty of traditional alcoholic brews were served.
“Because of the free alcohol, I used to drink a lot and this ended up affecting my life as all that I could think about was the beer. Also, once people got drunk late in the night, all manner of things happened and people would even kill each other! I was living a dangerous life yet I didn’t know how to stop,” recounts Paka.
Worse still, the income she got through circumcision failed to give her the satisfaction she was looking for in life.
“I kept cutting girls and getting cash but I was always sad. Sometimes, the money would be stolen when we were drunk and I would go back home with nothing. I was poor, struggling each day to take care of my family. So life had lost meaning for me,” Paka notes solemnly.
One day, in the midst of her grief stricken life, which increasingly resembled a bottomless dark hole with no way out, Paka met a religious leader who enabled her to see ‘light’ at a time when her life was filled with ‘darkness’.
“I didn’t know the pastor but it’s like he was sent to save my life since his message gave me hope. He began to visit me and he would read the bible and pray for me. He also kept assuring me that despite what I had done, God still loved me and had forgiven me. This began to heal my heart slowly by slowly,” she says.
During the ensuing spiritual devotion sessions with the pastor, Paka also got to learn of the adverse effects of FGM and how it was causing suffering to God’s children.
“At this point, I had grown in faith. And it pained me to realise that I had wronged God yet he loved me so much. I finally understood that the suffering in my life was linked to the pain I was causing the children. I am now happy with my life and thankful to God for turning my life around through the pastor that he sent my way,” she states. “Now, I work so hard to change people’s mind in my community so they can save our children and girls from the practice. I also want to protect them from the anguish and pain that I feel when I remember the girls that I may have harmed unknowingly.”
She frequently organises community forums where she sensitises women in her village on the adverse effects of FGM.
Pastor Solomon who 'saved' Paka's life, is among the many religious leaders working with families to enhance the well-being of children during this time of COVID-19. They have joined a training run by World Vision, from which they got a deeper understanding of how harmful cultural practices like FGM, which may appear harmless to communities – have caused suffering to children and robbed them of the happy life and bright future that God intended for them to have.
Thereafter, Paka abandoned the FGM practice and chose to become a children's rights champion. She also embraced alternative sources of income such as farming and livestock-rearing that she could take good care of her grandchildren.
“This revelation put in my heart the fire to spread the word of God in my community and make people understand that to fully serve God and experience his love and blessings, they need to protect children from all forms of abuse. You find joy by bringing joy to others,” Pastor Solomon notes.
“Children have been home since schools closed in March due to the coronavirus disease. This has put them at risk of harmful cultural practices like FGM and child marriage. My goal is to keep them safe,” he says.
Pastor Solomon was empowered by World Vision through its Big Dream programme implemented in Kenya. It seeks to ensure that all girls are cared for and protected from FGM, child marriage and other forms of violence. He constantly checks on children in his village and reports any cases of abuse to relevant child protection and law enforcement officers.
Published on 13 November 2020